Peace, London

I love London. It's my favorite major city. If I couldn't live in the Boulder area, London would easily be where I'd want to move (or the London environs, I should say, given financial practicalities). Like many Nigerians I have many friends and some family in London. Today's tragedy was far more immediate to me than any other terrorist attack of this troubled time.

If I'm a bit comforted, it's because I know that no one can bounce back from such an event like Londoners can. The main reason I love the city so is because of the wonderful populace, and the dignity and good sense with which they conducted themselves even at the very centers of the attack should be some indication of this quality. Londoners also went through the period of IRA bombings uncowed, and they will outlast this new threat. I certainly do not plan to let today's events affect any of my travel plans to the UK.

I cannot help, however, mentioning the disgusting response to this tragedy by some American conservative commentators. We've all heard of the appalling comments on Fox News (it's unbelievable that those who claim to be the enemies of these terrorists can bring themselves to gloat at the misfortune of London). Knowing the tremendous capacity of the today's middle American for apathy and docility, I imagine there will be no uproar here. But I hope those nitwits have to watch their backs if they ever happen to venture abroad. They are not one bit better than the terrorists.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The United States Constitution (See also the Amendments to the Constitution)

The country that has kindly granted me a second and very valuable citizenship deserves some moments of reflection outside the details of the days politics (no mean responsibility considering how worrisome politics have become lately).

The foundation of the U.S.A. is a remarkably sensible and prescient document which has endured through tremendous changes in every aspect of the country. But what is most remarkable to me is the fact that the constitution has endured so well in the face of changing mores. It is extraordinary for any national code in history to survive changes in mores, and yet this Constitution has been a steady guide, requiring no revolution through women's suffrage, the emancipation of slaves, the establishment of civil rights, the shift from insular to geopolitical tendency, the shift from agrarian to industrial and from industrial to service economy, and even all the explosive demographic changes since the turn of the 20th century. I think that this is ample proof that the principles enshrined in the constitution should inform the development of all sovereign nations, including my own native Nigeria. I know that the universality of these principles is a controversial idea, and for now I'll just say that it's practicality rather than idealism that makes me think so.

Here's looking forward to another 229 years of life for the U.S. constitution, and indeed, many more beyond that.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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The supreme court, stupid

So Sandra Day O'Connor has resigned. Woeful, woeful day. Bush, even though his political clout is starting to ebb, still has enough left over to ram a crimson ideologue into the court, perhaps even Alberto Gonzalez (wouldn't that be a rich joke on the Bill of Rights). And the Democrats, who have never had enough character to take advantage of Bush's difficulties, have nor spine nor heart to press the necessary fight all the way. I just shudder think of how this will play out.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Those despicable gas flares

The Beeb reports that there is increasing pressure the Nigerian government to stop burning gas flares ("Nigeria court action on flaring"). You see crude oil is so much more profitable than natural gas for petrol companies in Nigeria that rather than install facilities for developing gas, they pipe it up in stacks for burning in the open air.

My father taught at the University of Port Harcourt for a time in the late eighties, and I spent a good amount of time there (though I was a student at the University of Nigeria further North in Nsukka then). You could see several gas flares around just from the campus, especially at night, and it wasn't too far a drive to hear their loud hiss and crackle. It was a horrible sight, but one that one unfortunately became used to. I can't imagine how much environmental damage has been wasted over the years the flares have been burning, how much waste of potential resource. It's just a disgrace. And it doesn't just affect those of us who have some connection to the area.

Nigeria flares the most gas in the world. Campaigners say it creates more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in Sub-Saharan Africa combined.

I hope that some of the renewed pressure will force the government and its crony Western petrol companies to stop this practice. If the Nigeria gov is looking for a good way to spend the 18 bill it just scored, or its chunk of the Big Bucks for Africa that American presidents have come into the habit of supporting (1, 2), it could hardly do better than research and development related to avoiding waste of natural resources as exemplified by burning natural gas away into the hot West African troposphere.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Flickr, creative commons and "borrowing" works

I happened to stumble across a very interesting thread on the Flickr board: "HELP: Somebody's using MY pictures in HIS Photostream!!!". The thread opens up all sorts of pitfalls I'd never even thought of with Weblogging, shared photos, Creative Commons, etc.

As best I can summarize the situation, the most salient facts are:

  1. UserA complained that UserB uploaded a couple of UserA's photos into UserB's account ("photostream") without UserA's permission.
  2. UserA has placed the photos under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
  3. UserB did not provide attribution to UserA
  4. UserA does not want UserB to host these pictures under UserB's account regardless of attribution
  5. If UserB were to provide attribution, because of the many ways people can link to or embed Flickr photos, it's possible that the attribution will not be apparent in certain normal usage

Some less salient, but interesting facts:

  • 10) UserA is distressed and asked for help, officially and unofficially, in part how to deal with the unwanted usage, and for better understanding of policy and convention
  • 11) UserA says that English is not his first language, and he doesn't necessarily understand everything that's going on
  • 12) UserA feels that UserB is being "a bit of a jerk" about the entire situation but UserB has consented to update with attribution [Note drifting from fact to characterization: based on UserB's own comments (he appears in the thread later on), I think the problem is misunderstanding followed by standard flame war social dynamics]

The most striking thing here is the contradiction between Fact (3) and (4). It seems that UserA does not understand that in using this particular CC license, he loses control over (4), providing that licensees adhere to terms (which according to (12) should be the case by now). Is there a problem with licensors nonchalantly choosing CC licenses without considering or understanding all the ramifications of thee licenses? (I'm sure there is always going to be some degree of such problems, but how widespread are they among the many people who are not used to thinking in terms of Copyright licensing?)

Is there a problem with the fact that Flickr makes it easy to tag with attribution-required licenses, even though the way the service is structured cannot really enforce or ensure attribution (5)?

To what extent are CC licenses applied using technological metadata tagging means legally trumped by separately and explicitly stated means of the licensor? In this case, UserA has tagged his photos with a license, but has also informally expressed a desire for more stringent restrictions than those expressed in the tags. What restrictions are legally enforceable in this case?

One matter that came up is pretty much an entirely separate discussion on its own. It seems that Flickr purposely does not allow people to specify photos as public domain, for reasons that really seem a bit fuzzy to me.

Based on reading Flickr staff responses in this thread, they really don't know answers to such questions any more than I do. Some seemed remarkably muddled in their responses, and some gave responses that I think are plain wrong. Most of these discrepancies do get hashed out in the thread, though, and I hasten to add that Flickr staff seem to be genuinely concerned about sorting this all out based on what I read. I suspect that the entire situation just dredges up a ton of issues regarding the intellectual commons that no one really fully understands yet.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Toli skewers Reagan

Now the deification of Reagan is one thing (although there was a little shock on my part in reading the ensuing pablum about Ronnie's supposed prescience), but that deserves a separate post and I've long promised The Governor of Redmonk something on that front. Per Ignatieff, Reagan is supposedly responsible for "the emergence of democracy promotion as a central goal of United States foreign policy". The repeated misadventures in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and almost everywhere else are conveniently skipped over. The dissonance of soaring cowboy rhetoric, garden-variety Iran/Contra criminality, defence industry sinecures, or Savings and Loan cronyism and plain hypocrisy in the Realpolitik that Reagan's cohorts practiced are not commented upon, nor is it anywhere acknowledged that those swarthy developing world types incurred consideral collateral damage when they served as battlegrounds and proxies in that awful Cold War.

Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah

Hot damn! That needed to be said. I've been long winding up to a rant on Reagan, and being able to quote Koranteng helps relieve a bit of the pressure.

Why do Americans and some Brits venerate such a despicable character? I suppose they ask why so many others revile him. Never mind Reaganomics. His legacy would never be so awful for merely damaging the macroeconomics of his own country (national leaders, unfortunately, do this all the time). What Reagan did that, I'm convinced, will have him stomped into history's dustbin once people get the right amount of perspective is to set back the development of large swathes of the world by at least two decades. As if that wasn't bad enough, he and his cronies did so with a cowboy cavalier insouciance that is nothing short of breathtaking.

Some of the veneration of Reagan comes from the abject myth that he ended the cold war, made even more laughable by the puerile notion that once The Reagan had flung down the awesome term "Evil Empire" the enemy capital immediately began quaking to its sudden demise. In the real world it was Thatcher who had to whap Reagan upside his head with her handbag before he took any sort of meaningful action against the Soviet Union (he originally preferred to restrict his belligerence to socialist regimes that did not bristle with enough ICBMs to pulverize the moon), and it was the audacious tandem of Walesa and Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) who truly catalyzed the tumble. And even so, all that would all have been for naught without Gorbachev's even more audacious revolution from within the very Kremlin. Those figures, and not Reagan are rightly associated with the collapse of the USSR, if we insist on pin-pointing individuals. But why do we so insist, anyway? Clearly we saw an inevitable unraveling of the ludicrous economics of communism, stretched thin by the need to manage a huge war machine and an even bigger machine for promotion of communism abroad.

Thatcher is an interesting character. Her economics were brutal, but they were just what Britain needed. People often liken it to Reaganomics, and that boggles my mind. Reaganomics was an entirely capricious beast forged by all the tools of operators such as the Coors family (yes, an embarrassing amount of the poison sprang from this wonderful state of Colorado) towards the establishment of oligarchy. It was and is never necessary and always destructive. At low resolution some of the implements of Thatcher's and Reagan's policies were the same, but even where there was such partial correspondence their impetus and effect were very different. I admire Thatcher as a very resolute figure: she didn't do any favors to the developing world, but she at least was clear and forthright about what she was up to. We could see the blows as they arrived, and respond as best we could. Reagan preferred slinking, cowardly action, with the occasional, strategic sally, such as the incredibly gallant assault on tiny little Grenada.


That same laudable Reagan was for breaking sanctions on the apartheid regime in the name of not encouraging that dastardly communist Nelson Mandela who was busy breaking rocks on Robben Island. Indeed if I remember correctly even the democratic institutions of the US need looking after and some of us are monitoring the situation here with alarm.

That's the sort of point we should never lose sight of. The only thing Reagan means to anyone who has had to live through a thuggish regime in Africa is a redefinition of "freedom" so cynical that I suspect it outdid even the propaganda-driven policy of the "Evil Empire" itself.

Oh. And, as usual, Koranteng's soundtrack to his rant (see the end of his posting) is right on.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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...I've stood at Auschwitz, where millions were massacred. Then I read about in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands are dying in the Sudan.... ...I look at civilizations that have collapsed: Rome, Greece, China, the Aztecs, the Mayas. And then I look around at our pretensions and our beliefs -- that we are somehow permanent -- and I am reminded that it is the quality of leaders, the courage of a people, the ability to solve problems that enables us to continue for one more year, and then one more year, until our children and our grandchildren have had this freedom, this safety, this health and this prosperity.....

Newt Gingrich on "This I believe" (All Things Considered)

I've long since come to believe that Newt Gingrich as virulent reagent was never more than political affectation. No one ever doubted he was brilliant, but since his tumble from political grace, he has surprised me with an unexpected level of discernment and sensibility in his commentary. Yesterday's audio file on NPR takes the cake for me, though. He brought me up full short. I heard the creed of a man who is genuinely concerned for his civilization, and considers solutions based in humanity and humility, rather than bluster and belligerence. Apparently Gingrich extemporized the entire comment, and I was impressed by its coherence, but much more so by its tenor.

It's too bad that Gingrich decided against such equanimity at the time he was in a position to actually make a difference. Then again, if he had done at that time, his colleagues would likely never have allowed him to ascend to such a position. Such is realpolitik today, and especially so in the cartoon halls of American government.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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The big elephant in the room is African governments. Africa has been totally mismanaged and misruled in the past decade, but nobody wants to talk about that because of political correctness. Africa's begging bowl leaks horribly. As a matter of fact, the African Union itself estimated that every year corruption alone costs Africa $148 billion. If African leaders could cut that in half, they'll find more money than what Tony Blair is trying to raise for them. —George Ayittey on Jim Lehrer's NewsHour

Good stuff as usual from Emeka Okafor recently. In a few recent entries he has been talking about books with a variety of perspectives on African development.

In "Ayittey vs Sachs" he links to a debate between the two authors on PBS. Interesting stuff, but I'm left wondering whether Jeffrey Sachs is deluded, or in someone's pocket. He seems to be very optimistic about the probity of African governments in using Western aid. He wants Western governments to throw more money at Africa's problems.

It's not chauvinism to simply admit that most of Africa's problems can't be solved by throwing money at them. African has amply proved that it can be a bottomless pit of inefficiency and corruption, and I find it a bit patronizing for Sachs to go on as if only the hand of Western largesse will save Africa from itself. My attitude is a lot more along the lines of Ayittey, as I suppose is that of a lot of the professional class.

Sure, our problems of governance originate in actual colonialism and the essentially colonial manipulations of the cold war, but we're not going to do anything about it pointing fingers for the next 50 years. We have plenty of resources, including, most importantly, a huge and largely untapped pool of human resource. Our governments are a bit less arbitrary and kleptocratic than they used to be (though we have a long way to go), and I see a decent hope of Africa's bootstrapping itself successful region by successful region, and largely independently of foreign aid. As Ayittey says it will have to be the private sector leading the way.

Well, I mean, we have to find the origin of the problem. The origin of the problem in many African countries is that you've got state bureaucracies which are too bloated. I mean, if you take Ghana, for example, Ghana has 88 ministers and deputy ministers. Take Uganda; Uganda has 70 -- for a country of 25 million people, Uganda has 70 ministers. Uganda's budget is 40 percent aid-dependent. Ghana's budget is 50 percent aid-dependent.

Even if you cancel the debt, you don't eliminate that aid dependency. This is what I mean by getting to the fundamental root causes of the problem. Government, the state sectors in many African countries need to be slashed so that, you know, you put a greater deal of reliance on the private sector. The private sector is the engine of growth. Africa's economy needs to grow but they're not growing.

Right. Nigeria went from 4 governmental regions to 19 states and then eventually to (I think) 33 states. We've built a ludicrous bantustan of petty bureaucratic divisions. Private enterprise doesn't even know where to begin navigating the unpredictable waters of the numerous layers of government. Local knowledge isn't enough for enterprise in much of Africa. You need multiple levels of local influence.

Ayittey is also right when he talks about basic civil securities as a huge obstacle to development. Nothing underscores the danger of misplaced priorities better than the AU's attitude towards Mugabe's colossal stupidity while they try to turn the topic back towards further handouts from the West.

I'll have to get a copy of Africa Unchained, Ayittey's book. Ditto Preparing Africa for the Twenty-First Century, a book Okafor brought to my attention in a later entry.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Africa and business on Talk of the Nation

Good show on Talk of the Nation Monday: "Seeking Good News in Africa". First of all, I want to say that ToTN is one of my favorite NPR/PRI shows (I also love The World and Marketplace, and Terry Gross is usually good on Fresh Air). Neil Conan is probably the most patient and likable call-in show host in my limited experience of talk radio.

The blurb for this program segment is:

The next G8 summit in July will focus on poverty in Africa along with war, famine and drought. But some are calling for a broader view of Africa, citing its many qualities that go beyond famine and tragedy. We discuss how to balance the bad news with the good from a continent in need.

It is nice to hear more than just the usual famine/jungle/war/safari image of sub-Saharan Africa in mainstream media (with nude children as the inexplicable universal extras). It was a good discussion, and I highly recommend it. Some of my own reaction...

"Jean" from the Cote d'Ivoire called in to advocate decentralization of power and local allocation of resources, which is precisely what we need, but he also admitted the down-side to this as over-simplified formula. Often encouragement of local policy leads to fractious forces that cause tension and can lead all the way to Civil war. Most African countries are unfortunate agglomerations of numerous rival ethnic groups, and a heavy-handed federalism can be the only way to ensure unity. On the other hand such centralization is a huge obstacle to developmental progress. Whoever can figure out a practical solution to this dilemma (besides the slow, assimilating force of time and demographics, which is what did the trick in old Europe) will have earned the Nobel Prize for peace as well as economics.

"James" from Ft. Lauderdale had an all-too-credible tale of attempting to do business in Nigeria, and being defrauded time and time again, and permanently swearing off any sort of commerce anywhere in the African continent (bit of an overreaction, perhaps, but can you really blame him?). This is the simple reality check. We have a long way to go (especially in Nigeria) in dealing with fraud and lawlessness. Right now there is no substitute for local (and wily) guidance if you want to do business in much of the continent.

The last caller was "Kehinde" (I think: he never himself said his name, so I had to go by Neil Conan's suspect pronunciation), also a Nigerian. He trotted out a line that's all too familiar: why are we, the huge African professional class in diaspora, just sitting here and complaining about the situation back home rather than going back, using our local knowledge to help grow business?

Sounds seductive, but I know I speak for many others when I point out that in 1980, I watched my parents go home on the wings of just such idealism. My Father was becoming an internationally recognized Materials Engineer at the time, and figured his calling was to raise more such high-quality Engineers in Nigerian Universities. Nigeria at that time was actually considered an emerging economic force, and the public order and standard of living back in '80 and '81 was very high. We could have been U.S. citizens, but my parents saw no reason to make such a move. There were no barriers to coming back to the U.S. anyway, and we were committed to a future in Nigeria. As experience grew with numerous political barriers, and as well-connected incompetents took over local and national affairs, my parents realized that there was no way to even make an honest difference without outside the oligarch network. I don't think they ever looked to get rich, but rather to live a decent middle-class existence, while making the sort of meager difference that brings about basic professional satisfaction.

They had more local knowledge than I ever will have (I did spent eight years in school in Nigeria), and I can't imagine that I would be able to accomplish more than they did. By the time my parents gave up (alongside numerous other highly talented professionals), and returned to the U.S. and Europe in the mid-to-late 80s the middle class was collapsing with the economy, and the desirable destination countries were already putting up barriers to immigration of Nigerian nationals, barriers through which we Ogbujis squeaked through (excepting my two brothers, who were born U.S. citizens). My father immediately got a job at NASA, where he could immediately feel that he was making a difference—just not in the way he as a native Nigerian would wish.

I do dearly want to find a way to make a difference back home, and I'm sure I shall in time, but I really resent being scolded glibly: "go back to Africa, you prodigal dispersed".

There was one subtle touch in the program that I just loved. They played a clip from the film Africa: Open for Business (Flash site). Sounds like an encouraging film, by the way:

The world does not see Africa as a business destination, but savvy investors know Africa offers the best return on direct investment in the world—yes, in the world.

In the ToTN clip you hear Adenike Ogunlesi, a fashion entrepreneur discuss her (happy) experience. She starts out with the gorgeous, British-inflected English that many of us had pounded into our head in school (and that I have largely lost to an American accent):

It was the first time that anyone had marketed children's clothes like that...actually using Nigerian children. The response...people actually wanting the "made in Nigeria" garments...

And then, at this point, she subtly switches to a bit of demotic Nigerian accent. Not the pidgin language, just the accent that goes with it. All of us in the hybrid Nigerian/foreign college-educated class adopt this affectation when expressing a quote from a supposed Nigerian man-on-the-street.

"Where is the label. I want the label outside. I want everyone to know I'm wearing 'Rough and Tumble'"

I wonder if non-Nigerians would even detect that she changed accent (I suspect that now that I point it out, they would). If you want to check, it's about 22m 30s into the program.

It's often the little things that make you homesick.

BTW, for a superlative source for information about practical commerce in sub-Saharan Africa, see Emeka Okafor's blog "Timbuktu Chronicles".

[Uche Ogbuji]

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